Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Merging Traffic

About fifteen years ago, I realized the break down of society was in the fact that many don’t know how to merge in traffic. This is an abstract statement representing the fact that we no longer know how to live in community. Obviously, this is a generalization. I am sure you know how to live in community. I am sure I always hit it on the bull’s eye when it comes to living among the human race.
Okay, I don’t always get it right and in case you didn’t smell the sarcasm, let me be the first to break it to you. You don’t get it right all the time either. And at the risk of sounding really old, I think our ability to live in community is getting weaker.
It does not even take an hour of reading the paper (scanning the internet) to realize how broken we are at living in the same space. We can point to commercialism, guns, social media or even the church as the guilty parties in this breakdown. And possibly they are all correct. However, I think we have forgotten how to let another person in line in front of us. I think it starts there and then it grows to become something that just is down right scary.
The internet tells me of a shooting on the floor of a hospital where I have spent a few nights. Someone is trampled at Walmart over a sale item. I know this gives ammunition to have tighter regulations on guns and to cancel Black Friday (Thursday). I am not arguing for or against those recommendations. I am pleading the case that it is bigger than those culprits. The net needs to be a little wider if we really want to make this world a better place.
Do I know what the net is or the fix-all or the answer? I wish. Because if I did, I would write a book, be on Ellen and become some guru that only goes by my first name and living in isolation. After a few years I would realize the irony of understanding the key to living in community and living in isolation and probably write another book.
In all seriousness, possibly the book has already been written. There are some wise words in Scripture that refer to merging in traffic…I mean living in community. However, a lot of those words have to do with looking out for others instead of ourselves. And most of us are not sure that is a line we want to buy into long term.
But what would it look like if everyone thought and acted on that concept first? 
I think traffic might go a little smoother. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Version of the Next Chapter

There have been quite a few early morning surgeries I have set my alarm and met a member of our congregation at the hospital to have prayer over.  If you are having an early surgery (or even a late one) and are a member of Campbell you usually get me. Please know what an honor it is to be able to step before God on your behalf. Also know that every time I get back in my car to drive to the office I realize I am going back to my routine, but those I prayed over are not. Their life has experienced a change. No matter how small or how serious the reason for the surgery, their lives are thrown a curve.

My alarm is set and I will pray for a Campbell member tomorrow. However, I will not get back in my car and drive to the office. I will take a seat in the waiting room while my mom gives cancer its first punch. Or in her case a right and left double punch.  I will admit that this has been a difficult place to set. I am a pastor, but I am also a daughter. I could spend a hundred paragraphs attempting to explain who this woman I will pray for tomorrow is to me. However, it would come up empty.

There is a lot I am learning from this experience and I am guessing that God has a few more lessons in store. First and foremost is that I believe everything I pray in those hospital rooms for others, I also believe for my mom. God is God and God is good even when the situation is not.

Second, sometimes people don’t know what to say so they don’t say anything. That is not good. I promise from now on that if I am aware of something in your life, you are going to receive a word from me or the least a pat on the back or a brush of your hand. This is really important for pastors to hear. It may not be our comfort zone, but in that moment we are seen as God’s agent and God wouldn’t ignore the situation.

Third, we don’t have a clue what the story is going to be, don’t attempt to write it for the person. Maybe you have been through something similar, the best words are “I have am here” not a rundown of the details of the situation. In other words and in reference to my second lesson, fewer words are often the best. I am sorry to anyone that I have spoken more words than were God given in your moment.

Fourth, for all the diet cokes I have taken people in waiting rooms…yea, those will continue. No one really knows what to say or do, so do what you know. For me, it is diet cokes and prayer.

I don’t know what the next chapter holds for my family, but I do know that God is making me a better daughter and a better pastor through it all. And so tomorrow I will get up and do what I have done a hundred times in ministry, call upon God to carry us through.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

45 Life Lessons

I have been thinking about birthdays a lot lately. Not quite sure why, but I am feeling the need to mark the upcoming day with something besides scheduling a birthday lunch. So, I am following the trend from bloggers I read and coming up with 45 (to represent the upcoming year) Life Lessons.
Some of these come from journal entries written 25+ years ago, other bloggers and one comes from a recent Costco trip.

1. Life is to be unwrapped slowly, be sure to cherish even the smallest moments. 1/18/1986
2. Each day someone's life may be changed because you are in it. 12/7/1986
3. Someday something big is going to happen to you and you will want to be around when it does. (1986)
4. We can all exist, it is the living part that takes some effort. 2/2/1988
5. No reason to have a pity party if you cannot get a good caterer. 1988
6. Crap happens, but my Lord carries a pooper scooper 3/27/1989 (give me a break, I was in college).
7. No matter how much family and friends harass you, take pictures of all the moments, especially the simplest ones (and your food).
8. Don't underestimate the power of comfort food.
9. Strive to write a good story with your life. Borrowed from Donald Miller
10. Do something completely pointless every once in awhile, especially if it makes you laugh.
11. Worry less about what people think and more about making a difference in someone's life.
12. There will be people in your life that probably shouldn't be. Quit giving them a lead role in your storyline.
13. Those that started this journey with you - family, are always worthy of forgiveness when they request it.
14. Have a pet, treat it well.
15. Being "there" for someone is always more important than the need to complete a task.
16. Laugh really hard as much as possible. If you have people that make you laugh that hard, keep them in your life.
17. Be the kind of person babies and dogs trust.
18. Meaning in life always beats out success as a goal.
19. Realize you are not always going to get it right. Accept that fact so you can apologize when needed.
20. Be a better person today than you were yesterday...every day.
21. Allow someone to speak honestly into your life and let them speak on a regular basis.
22. Get a passport, just in case.
23. Always say yes to adventure even if it scares you speechless.
24. Take opportunities to be kind at random moments for random reasons.
25. Budget money and time so you have a little extra of both to be impulsive with both every once in awhile.
26. Journal.
27. If you have a choice between right and popular, always choose right especially when it is hard.
28. Don't be afraid to be the first person to reach out. Even if you are rejected, you were brave and that is great.
29. Make your grandmother's orange rolls...or angel food cake...or whatever tradition your family holds.
30. Don't let your past fears define your future experiences.
31. Leave a job with your employer willing to hire you back in a second.
32. Sometime in your life visit a third world country.
33. Hold the door open for people coming behind you (literally and metaphorically).
34. Recycle.
35. Avoid "hand wash only" clothes.
36. Take care of your teeth.
37. If you have a choice between pouring into a job or pouring into a person, always pour into a person.
38. Every once in awhile unplug from technology.
39. We are not meant to be perfect, just real.
40. Count blessings before disappointments. Borrowed from Ann Voskamp.
41. Life is uncertain, however God is certain.
42. Don't "throw others under the bus" to save yourself.
43. Never turn down an opportunity to laugh with family or friends, especially if you think you are too busy.
44. Authenticity is not easy, but in the end being honest is always better.
45. Be the kind of person that no one is surprised by your life lesson list.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Peanut Butter and People

When I prepared to travel to Nicaragua recently I stressed out a little over peanut butter. I was not checking any luggage, which meant I needed to pack my clothes and lunch food for the four-day trip in my carry on. This is a challenge I happily accepted.  I gathered food that would not melt and would give protein to sustain me. However, as I packed my roller suitcase for the third time I started to question my choice of peanut butter. I read the TSA requirements online and realized that this could be considered a liquid. OH NO! All of a sudden my stress was not about scorpions or mosquitoes in this third world country, it was all about how I could be stopped in security and my peanut butter would be pulled. The rule follower in me comes out at the weirdest times and can consume my thoughts. I packed and repacked those peanut butter packets a half a dozen times. The whole time knowing I don’t even really like peanut butter that much.
On Saturday, I will be ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. The service will be moving and sacred. However, all I can think about is…will I have too many people on stage with me? What is the rule? All of a sudden I cannot remember any of the dozen other ordination services I have ever attended. The rule follower in me is screaming out in terror at the possibility I may exceed some limit. How do you sum up twenty-three years of ministry? Whose role in my life was so pivotal that they are allowed a walk up the stairs?
The pastor I grew up with was a minister to my family when my mother died and later officiated when my father married Alice. I learned how to pray listening to the Associate pray on Sunday mornings. If we are going to be honest, many people from Wesley UMC filled my life with words of encouragement. One of my bosses as I hid out in Kansas City reminded me of the strengths of the United Methodist Church, allowing healing to happen and later recommended I go for a Masters of Divinity. Then after running from church, a Springfield pastor took a chance and asked me to consider ministry once again. Later he would recommend me as the first woman pastor at a community serve. Let’s go ahead and bring up those families from the church formerly known as Dale Street UMC. Doing ministry with a crazy couple reminded me how fun it is to serve God. Many paved the way to Campbell UMC, who I now consider dear friends. Where the co-pastors gave me more responsibility and experience in ministry than was probably smart on their part. There are the parents of youth that worked and served alongside me and became friends as they let me into the lives of their children. The interns that worked with me and trusted that I might know something about youth ministry, even on days when I probably didn’t. When I stepped out in faith and started seminary, God used many to make that journey possible, financially and physically. Then there were the Staff Parrish committees that when change was in the air, had confidence in me that I did not have in myself. Many people had leadership roles that led to a meeting at China Star where the next chapter was started. When the door opened for being Associate Pastor, I wasn’t sure I could pull it off. However, the “president of my fan club” told me I could every time she saw me.  My family, who know me better than any other, knew I could do this and told me so. Friends along the path who held me accountable, mentored and listened as I worked through the struggles. Many of the hundreds of people who have poured into my life are captured in pictures around my office reminding me of how they made me who I am.
Each of these people led me to Saturday. I guess when it comes right down to it, four people on stage with me might break a rule that I don’t know exists, but it is better than the four hundred that should be with me. So Missouri Conference Board of Ordained Ministry, you can thank me later for not asking them all to lay hands on me.
And by the way, the peanut butter slipped right on through security. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Muffled Thoughts

Just a few weeks before Christmas, every year at Campbell UMC we celebrate Advent with the Children's Nativity Parade. So 350-something days ago we scheduled for children to dress up like barn animals, shepherds, Mary, Joseph and wise men to stand in front of the church. Last Christmas, our youth director announced to the staff his son's upcoming birth by claiming a treasured spot as Jesus in the parade. It is a powerful event every year.
This past Sunday's Nativity Parade was no different - cameras flashed, smiles abound and tears fell. I doubt if anyone in the room could avoid thinking about a small community in Connecticut and the children must have sensed our need for hope. The barn animals struggled to keep their ears atop their heads, but had no problem teaching us a few lessons.
The donkeys took their spot on the step as if their parents had threatened them to be camera ready. However when Mary and Joseph made their way down the aisle, the three year old dressed in a brown tunic holding his ears knew he needed to scoot over to make room for couple and their baby. I wish I remembered that in the midst of this crazy season. 
The sixth grader who, I am sure was wrangled into filling the spot as Joseph at the first service somehow knew to bring into his arms the two year old cow heading in the wrong direction. Do I gracefully bring into my arms those who need a slight redirection?
What about the lesson from the four year old angel who could not keep her eyes off baby Jesus even with all the distractions around her?
Then you have the second grader who wanted to be sure you saw his star even though that group was pushed to the back row? 
In some ways it was harder emotionally this year to experience this tradition. However and possibly even more important for me, it was healing to know that the story stills needs to be told and who better to share it than the children that seem to understand it the best. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Drinking From the Same 'Ole Well

I just got home from attending a Women's Conference at a local church. 
The church's sign does not mention the denomination I serve. 
I did not hear any speakers that would be familiar with John Wesley's Aldersgate experience. 
In other words, the conference was not United Methodist. However this is the fifth year in a row I have attended and there were a half a dozen women from our congregation setting with me. And I am registered to go next year...along with many of those same women. 
My main purpose or at least the one I give to rationalize my attendance is to "steal" ideas for our women's event in January. We have molded our event after their conference in many ways, while keeping our own flavor. 
I know from good authority that this is one reason they have the event. So, the reason is all and good. Yet, at the same time we gained good ideas for "Simple Life 2013", I was fed spiritually. 
Shhhh, don't tell anyone that I could actually be fed at THAT church and still be in love with an open communion table. 
I heard the word of God spoken through the power of the Holy Spirit. I raised my voice and heard God through the music. 
They do ministry well and the speakers spoke of God's love.
Did I agree theologically or doctrinally with everything spoken in those walls during the 48 hours of the event? No. And that is my point. 
I went to a UM event a couple weeks ago and heard a pastor complaining because the speaker "probably" had a differing opinion about something than they did. They could not believe that the coordinators and leaders would bring in THAT KIND of speaker. 
I had to leave the table before my mouth opened and something fell out.
Come on, people. 
If we only drink from the well that we built are we really drinking the living water?
If you only read books that confirm what you already believe, why read the book?
If you only listen to speakers that have the same theological or doctrinal understanding as you, are you not limiting what God may have in store for you to hear?
I grow and learn because the Holy Spirit is moving, not because the church's, the speaker's or the author's articles of faith match my articles of faith. 
Don't get me wrong, I cringe a little when something is said that may go against what I believe...and then I move on and usually am encouraged by the very next statement. 
The reality is I am confident enough in how God is moving in me to not fear someone's differing view getting in the way of the Spirit moving overall. 
Yes, I have been known to actually start to re-think my own views when I hear a differing view. God has been a part of all the processing. At this point in my life, I have never been brainwashed to believe something against my will (or God's will). 
I think it is healthy for people to drink from other wells and I want to be the first in line. 
No one has a exclusive market on God's annointed word.
When was the last time you allowed God to use something outside your doctrinal comfort zone by drinking from a different well? 
Don't make me start quoting Scripture of God using wells in the OT to push people out of their comfort zones. 
God annoints who God annoints and guess what? The person God is using may not have the exact beliefs as you do.
Get over yourself and listen. 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Words Sometimes Just Spill Out

I am praying for each family of those that were killed in Aurora, CO, each person that was injured, everyone that was in the theater that evening and the shooter’s family. Even more I am praying for all of us.
With the following statements, I know I am showing my age. I get that I have passed over the line where I now sound like my mother. I don't know if the timing is right to express these thoughts. Yet, I am still going to type my thoughts because I cannot seem to contain the words any longer.
I understand the need after a horrific tragedy to crave laws limiting guns. However, can we really take guns out of the public’s hands and still put them in actor’s hands on the big screen. Do we really believe that children who have been raised on Mortal Kombat and Grand Theft Auto are also being taught to process the difference from video to real life?
We live in a broken world; I make that statement way too many times a day. So, an understandable response might be – yea, we know, Melissa. However, do we know we broke the world? With each drop of violence on television, movies, video games we also continue to crack our society a little more.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not own a gun; I don’t have a dog in that fight (haven’t decided if I want you to excuse my pun or not).  I believe Charles Heston made a better Moses than NRA spokesman. I get that more restrictions may help avoid gun related murders. I am not attempting to divert attention from the fact that guns were used to kill people in the theater. I just don’t think it is that simple.
I think we have disregarded mental illness for too long. And I pray that we continue the conversations needed to understand how to prevent these kinds of events in the future.
I think we need to realize we cannot fill our heads and hearts with violence through media and not expect it to have consequences that are not pretty. 
I think we have lost something when a 3 month old is at a midnight showing instead of home.  (Now I know I sound like my mother). Are we helping parents, especially new parents understand how priorities change when a new life comes into theirs?
I think we have also lost something that as I typed the above paragraph I was a little worried (not enough to stop me) that I called out a situation in the midst of grief. We should be able to express when we think something was illogical without facing our own firing squad of the “you’re okay, I’m okay” world (yes, I am a child or the 70s). Sometimes decisions are not smart. Are we allowed to bring wisdom into each other's lives? 
I do know we need God. With each crack of hate and evil, I believe that even more. Someday I hope we will quit bantering back and forth about whose fault things are and understand we all need healing that is only possible through Christ.